The pandemic has hit musicians and performance venues hard, but B.C. musicians Dane Warren and Mandy Rushton have managed to not only engage their audience throughout the year, but grow it through weekly livestream concerts.
The jazz group, also featuring Warren and Rushton’s next door neighbour Aaron Pang, are putting on a virtual Valentine’s Day show to benefit the Osoyoos District Arts Council which includes The Art Gallery Osoyoos and the Osoyoos Performing Arts
Mad Jazz just starting gaining some notoriety early last year prior to the pandemic shutdown and just after they signed a few performance contracts, the pandemic hit.
Prior to the pandemic health restrictions barring events and concerts Mad Jazz had the fortunately–timed idea to start livestreaming shows from their Richmond loft.
“That was late-February (2020) because everybody seemed sick for weeks or months at a time, last year around this time, and so many of our friends and fans really wanted to support us,” Rushton said.
“It just happened that two weeks later the shut down happened. We were kind of already set up now, so the pandemic was rough for us because we lost all our contracts, but then it also made us focus on a side of entertainment we probably never would have, which I think has opened up a lot of possibilities” Warren said.
Warren described the technical side of livestreaming weekly shows as a “learning curve like nobody’s business,” upgrading cameras, software, lighting and sound along the way.
“It’s been great because we’ve learned a bunch of stuff we would have never forced ourselves to actively learn in such a short time. We’ve really kind of grown as far as performing and doing livestream concerts,” Warren said.
While not monetarily as successful as live performances, the online shows have grown Mad Jazz’s audience around the world.
“Not only friends and family, but we’re now getting a global reach which we never would have had that opportunity just doing local events or restaurants,” Rushton said.
“It’s almost like a group of friends coming together down at the bar. We got to know some people we never knew before and we meet them every Friday and we chat and we learn about what their favourite songs are. It was such a great, mutually beneficial thing that happened. We’re really happy about it,” Warren said.
Add to that a “match made in heaven” with tech guru and pianist Aaron Pang living an estimated four steps away, the Richmond loft quickly became the “Mad Jazz Laboratory.” The group put on 76 performances online last year alone.
Self-described “musical theatre brats,” Warren and Rushton harbour a love for the classics paying tribute to past legends of the stage including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, but they also add in the light–hearted spirit of the Lucy and Desi-style comedy of the day.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we do love the music in a serious way, but we have a lot of fun. I think that’s what people respond to as well. It’s like they’re in our living room and we’re just goofing around with them. I think that’s why we’re so successful getting people watching every single Friday since the pandemic. Even when people were kind of getting sick of the virtual shows,” Warren said.
Rushton is the musical historian of the band, drawing inspiration from the days of Tin Pan Alley.
“At the heart of it all, the bulk of the Great American Songbook is love songs. Whether you’re in a great mood and you’re in love or your heart’s broken and the pandemic blues are taking hold, love songs can pick you up and dust yourself off and you can start all over again,” Rushton said.
Her favourites are the songs about heartbreak, somewhat ironic considering both see themselves as a little goofy. Perfectly situated for a Valentine’s Day show.
While growing the livestream audience has been a truly unique experience, and both attest they have learned a lot in a short amount of time, nothing quite matches up to the energy of an in-person crowd.
“It’s so different. For the first couple months it was really awkward. We would finish a song and there’s no one else here,” Warren said. “We used to finish the song and immediately yell ‘yay!’ or clap for ourselves to fill the silence.”
Now they have built-in crowd sound effects on a nearby dilapidated keyboard which summons thunderous applause on cue.
“We kind of laugh at it because it’s so over the top but it feels great,” Rushton said with a laugh.
While it is unclear when live music will return, Mad Jazz is steadily looking forward to the day they can meet their new fans.
“We are looking forward to the day when we can meet all the people we’ve met online through our Mad Jazz livestreams at a live venue. It would be cool to have an inaugural live show back and meet all these people we’ve spent every Friday with for the last year,” Warren said.
The upcoming Valentine’s Day show on Sunday, Feb. 14 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. is a fundraiser to support the Osoyoos District Arts Council which includes The Art Gallery Osoyoos and the Osoyoos Performing Arts.
For more information, and to purchase tickets click here.
Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle